Washington Editor

AxCell Biosciences entered a research collaboration with Celgene Corp. to study the role of ubiquitin ligases in cancer and inflammation.

Signing this agreement means AxCell is involved in two very promising areas of research, the other focusing on protein kinases in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute, Michael Becker, president and CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based Cytogen Corp., AxCell's parent company, told BioWorld Today.

Becker would not discuss financial terms of the deal, referring those questions to Warren, N.J.-based Celgene, which did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The collaboration calls for scientists at both companies to investigate specific ubiquitin ligases as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of cancer and inflammation based on their combined technologies and expertise. Ubiquitin ligases are regulatory molecules that maintain normal cellular functions by selectively marking unwanted or damaged proteins for degradation within cells, according to a Cytogen statement.

"Celgene has assembled an extensive portfolio of novel ubiquitin ligases and a major program to develop small-molecule drugs that selectively regulate ubiquitin ligases for the treatment of cancer and inflammation," a prepared statement released by Alan Lewis, president of Celgene's San Diego Research Division, said.

Back in September, Cytogen released plans to realign AxCell, of Newtown, Pa., in an effort to reduce expenses and to position the company for long-term growth. The plan resulted in a reduction of staff from 26 to six, Becker said. (The measure is expected to lower Cytogen's annual operating expenses by about $1.4 million.)

Nevertheless, even with a smaller staff, Becker said the research can be done. "Over the years we've generated a large amount of information on how proteins communicate with one another, and even with a scaled-down work force, we can still conduct the work," he said.

He added that the AxCell subsidiary evolved about five years ago from research at Cytogen. Since its inception, the smaller company has been involved in academic and government collaborations, which have led to corporate deals.

Regarding other agreements, AxCell in July signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the NCI to apply AxCell's protein interaction mapping technology to researching tyrosine kinases and serine-threonine kinases and how they impact signaling pathways within cells. In a second deal signed in September, AxCell and the NCI entered another CRADA to study TEY1, a newly discovered metastasis suppressor gene for prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, in other areas during the past year, AxCell signed two agreements with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York. The first, signed in March, focuses on protein interactions in the WW protein domain family, believed to have a role in the development of muscular dystrophy and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. And the second, signed in May, is designed to identify molecules useful for treating HIV-associated nephropathy.

Cytogen's stock (NASDAQ:CYTO) closed Tuesday at $3.66, down 21 cents, while Celgene's (NASDAQ:CELG) closed at $23.82, down 59 cents.